Islam and Science Again

Question from :
The Quran has verses about the Big Bang, the formation of the embryo, the speed of light and other scientific facts. How do I explain to a Muslim that these Quranic verses are incorrect or that Quran is incorrect? When I discuss such matters with Muslims, the discussion becomes dead as both the sides have their explanations but are not convincing enough. Any help would be really appreciated. I watch your show online from time to time, some callers give very stupid arguments but all in all great work guys. Keep it up 🙂

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, we’re not affiliated with any show. Ask The Atheist with Tom Leykis isn’t us. You might instead be talking about The Atheist Experience, which I love but is not us either.

Anyway, the claims of divine scientific foreknowledge always rely on specific interpretations of passages in the Quran, so the question is whether these interpretations are justified, and the problem with discussing it with Muslims is that the answer to this question is extremely subjective. What’s not so subjective is whether it is convincing to non-believers; no matter how obvious the argument seems to Muslims, they can’t claim that it’s persuading people who don’t already believe. The propaganda is all one-way from devout Muslims, not testimonials from new converts. Therefore if they care about more than just feeling smug and reassuring their fellow Muslims (and they may not), they need to address what you find weak about this type of argument.

For excellent analysis of particular claims, check out TheIslamMiracle on YouTube. There’s a video for each one.

Go Where The Science Leads

Question from “Not an atheist”:
Why do you atheists believe you know better than actual scientists that figured all this shit out? Science doesn’t lead to atheism, it refuted atheism a long time ago.

Answer by SmartLX:
Science is a process, and it has definitely led many to atheism by helping them discover natural explanations for phenomena previously thought to be the work of gods. Everyone thinks of evolution as an example, but it goes all the way back to things like the existence and movement of the sun. Others simply attribute the new mechanisms to God as well and are awed by the wondrous ways in which He apparently works, so science does end up leading some farther from atheism than they started. Overall, where science “leads” in this sense is highly subjective and therefore varies wildly.

As for your last point, have a quick search of the site to see if the specific refutation of atheism you’re thinking of is already addressed. If not, we’d love to hear about it. If so, drop a comment on the article you find and we’ll pick up from there.

Scripture Outpaces Science Again (Hindu this time)

Question from :
What would be your best argument against someone using the Unpanishads and Quantum Physics as a justification for their belief in God?

Answer by SmartLX:
For those like me who may never have seen the word before, The Unpanishads are the source of a lot of central Hindu concepts. The doctrines behind this particular justification concern the importance of consciousness and awareness to the universe, and the timelessness of certain entities. The argument is that these correspond to the observer effect in quantum mechanics and the general unchanging nature of the fundamental physics of the universe. Here’s an example of an article making this point.

This fits into the general category of a claim of divine foreknowledge. The appropriate category in my article on prophecies and predictions is #4: Shoehorned, because people are taking established science and fitting it to the most relevant parts of a religious text after the fact. No one read the Upanishads and realised as a result that observing individual particles of light would affect how they appeared. Nor does anyone expect to be able to scrutinise the Upanishads now and find new practical details that will advance science any further.

The major complication for someone actually using this as an argument for their particular god is the existence of a huge number of arguments along the same lines using both Christian and Muslim scripture. I’ve covered many of these separately and as a group. A Hindu (or Buddhist or Jainist, since they also use the Unpanishads to a degree) would have to explain why there’s so much similarly accurate-looking material in mutually exclusive texts, or make the effort to debunk everyone else’s claims. Christians in particular have worked to do just that.

Demons and gods and the Big Bang oh my!

Arushi asks…

Okay so I am an atheist and I am 13 yo girl from India !! Yes , India but my mom and dad were quite supportive of my act … I read about different stuff from the Internet and then I read about Stephen hawking and all his books and he says that the universe just blurted out of a Big Bang and he’s an atheist the question is who really created the Big Bang or designed humans . Then why are there so many evidences that God is present ?? And even if there isn’t y r demons present and I can’t stop myself from believing all this after I saw some real exorcism tapes !! What happens to our body when we die coz atheists don’t believe in afterlife ?? Is there a hell or heaven ?? Pls answer my queries I’ll be really grateful to and I could answer them when my frnds inquire me 🙂 I am really interested in science , physics , philosophy , paradoxes but I love knowing about myths , demons and legends so pls help me end my search !! Thank you xx

Thanks for all of the questions.

You’re problem here is that you have a little information but it’s obvious you haven’t actually studied them for yourself. I know from having a teenager and from once being one, that studying isn’t something that you like to do unless you have to (there are exceptions of course). You are probably used to people telling you what to think instead of learning things for yourself. I get that. You’ve got a lot going on with school and friends and family, who has time to learn? However, if you really want to begin to understand the world you live in, you’re going to have to do more then just “read about Stephen Hawking”, you’re going to have to actually read his books, or at the very least, listen to some of his lectures. You see, the internet is full of disinformation. You have to be willing to verify claims by doing a little research. I know that seems like a lot to do, but it is infinitely better then relying on what other people tell you about things. Look at it this way, the more you know and understand about the world around you, the clearer your perspective becomes. You can either choose to live blindly, or choose to try and understand. The choice is yours alone either way.

With that said, I’m going to answer your questions in a short manner and encourage you to go and learn these things for yourself instead of just accepting what I tell you.

First there is no evidence for any gods. Evidence for any claim of existence requires objective, verifiable proof. If someone told you there was a teapot circling Pluto, you wouldn’t believe it unless you had hard evidence for it right? Same thing with gods and demons. What people like to do is point to something that they don’t understand and say “god did that”, instead of actually trying to understand it for themselves. For example, for a long long long time people thought that those who screamed out, and shook on the floor and suffered from seizures were “possessed by demons”, but it wasn’t until science came around that we came to understand what causes seizures. Guess what? Demons weren’t involved.

Let’s take for example the “exorcist tapes” you referred too. What science was done to confirm these were people actually possessed be “demons”? How do you know the film wasn’t edited to make you think the demons were real? Why is the default explanation “demons” instead of just saying “I don’t know why this is happening”? An extraordinary claim like “demons” demands extraordinary evidence to verify it. Where is the verification? The James Randie Foundation offers a million dollars to anyone who can scientifically verify their claims of gods and demons and magic and psychic powers. Many have tried, and not one has ever succeeded. Their claims always fall short when studied in an objective manner. You might want to ask yourself why that is?

The rest of your questions are easy. There is no evidence for an afterlife just like there is no evidence for gods or demons. Don’t take my word for it though. Go learn these things for yourself. Start with learning the scientific method (systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.) and learn to apply it to your questions and ask if the evidence you’ve been given is justifiable. Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.

I know these aren’t the answers that you were looking for, but the direction I’m pointing you in will allow you to learn these things for yourself instead of relying on others to tell you what to believe. Feel free to read through this website. Use the search function. Read, learn, and try to understand. That’s the best advice I can give you.

Christianity vs Science

Question from Moonrunez:
Yo, talk about cover ups and denying bull, I have been trying to find books that list how Christianity killed and abused science, the study thereof, the torture and death of people studying science, and all I get is how Christianity started science, really, who was Hypatia? N.american Indians practised Tesla mathematics thousands of years before Tesla, look at the serpent mound, or the astro-mathematics of Chaco canyon, not one ounce of land has been gained in N. or S.america except by killing American Indians for practicing witchcraft. this was commonly done to get land, Christians from pagans, Christians from Christians, no one seems to know that one half the town of Salem was accused of witchcraft, the ones who admitted as much lost all there land to the other Christians, why? Why the bullshit, or how Christianity is the cause of extinction and justification for animal abuse and scientific study, animals don`t have souls, Black Beauty was written by a man who witnessed the abuse of animals in his time and wrote about it, and I conclude do you know why I have the right to face my accuser, because in the witch burning times you could accuse your neighbor of heresy have them killed, via torture first to get land, that is why the constitution has this, I can`t find a single book listing groups of scientists, and the types of science destroyed, all I find is Christian websites stating they created science, those idiot Egyptians never built pyramids, had math, science, knew the world was round, star charts, physics, medicine, herb lore, surgery, writing, read 42 laws of Mayet! Can you recommend books that tell the truth of how science etc. was held back by Christianity, thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, Christians appear to have a lot of material for arguing that Christianity was responsible for the rise of science because so many of the great scientists were Christians. Where the argument stumbles is in establishing that their Christianity actually helped in their work, rather than that they were simply great scientists who, like nearly everyone else in those times and places, happened to be Christian. People like Hypatia, who was a fourth century Egyptian pagan scholar, demonstrate that plenty of good work was going on outside of “Christendom”.

Anyway, the persecution of individual scientists isn’t good material for a lot of books because there aren’t many well-known cases. There’s Galileo, of course, and in very much the same category there’s Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake for claiming there were planets outside the solar system (possibly with life on them). William Buckland, Charles Lyell, Louis Agassiz, and Adam Sedgewick set out to investigate the Biblical flood, but ended up dispelling their own beliefs in it and brought condemnation upon themselves from the Church. Feel free to add more, folks, but that about does it for the famous ones.

It’s worth being very specific about the measurable effect Christianity has had on science, rather than simply saying that it held it back. For as long as Christianity has seen itself as a political power in the world, it has encouraged technological advances to keep itself powerful. Strong armies, good medicines and so on were extremely important.

The issue is that Christianity contains a number of doctrines (claims, if you like) which we now know contradict the scientific evidence and have been accepted by the majority as simply false. Special creation of each plant and animal is a big one, but there’s also the idea that the Earth or the Sun is the centre of the universe, that diseases are caused by demons instead of germs and that stars are small enough to be capable of “falling from the sky” onto the Earth. Some of these are claimed outright by the Bible, others were added later by popes and other authorities. Once the reality became clear in each case, even if the scientific community accepted it, majority Christian populations were very slow to adopt the new thinking because it contradicted something that was supposedly sacred. This wasn’t enough to stop the science from advancing, but it sure slowed it down. Scientists need funding and freedom, and the religious tend to be in positions where they can allow or deny both.

And now a little surprise: I didn’t say there weren’t any books at all. In 1896, Andrew Dickson White wrote A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, summarising every conflict he could find. That link is to the entire book, hosted at the University of Michigan. It’s been derided by theologians and accommodationists as propaganda, but whatever you think of it you can’t deny that it’s all there.

Faith in Science

Question from Markus:
Quite frequently I read the argument that it takes faith to “believe” in atheism. It’s quite easy to falsify this argument and I won’t repeat that here.

However, as opposed to answering this question on a logical and abstract level, I see a problem if we apply it in the real world.
All scientific facts we know today are well documented and proven by various methods that are verifiable. But while for science as a whole this holds true for me as an individual it doesn’t. For example I couldn’t reproduce the experiments that are necessary to prove that a Higgs particle is most likely. So I have to believe that these experiments where actually done, that the results were correct, and that the scientists doing it came to the right conclusions and were honest. I lack the resources and the knowledge to be able to verify the results.

But it doesn’t have to be something as complex as the experiment mentioned. There are a lot more basic questions which I might be able to answer had I enough time in my lifetime. The scientific knowledge available today is so vast that even the brightest individual could only verify a tiny part of it even if he dedicated his whole life to it.

It is quite easy to verify that the scientific methodology is reasonable. Furthermore it is possible to verify parts of it and therefore create personal evidence that all scientific facts might be true.

One might say that it is possible to verify random parts of science and therefore create evidence for its validity. But let’s say an individual is able to verify 0.0001% of all knowledge available today during his lifetime does he then really have enough evidence for not having to refer to faith instead?

The issue get’s even bigger if we think about the whole world population. I would say that 90% of all people don’t have the resources or the education to even try to understand basic scientific facts.

So if applied to the real world doesn’t it take faith in science?

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s quite true that although we can all apply the scientific method to some degree and gain justified confidence in its results, we can’t each do all the experiments to confirm the wealth of existing scientific knowledge. So rather than faith in science, it’s more a question of the need for faith in scientists.

Fortunately, we don’t immediately have to resort to faith in the absence of what you call “personal evidence”. Through proper documentation, second-hand evidence can also be valid. For centuries scientists have made public not only their findings but their methodology, their preparation and even the results of individual trials. Nowadays, the physical experiments can be watched online or on educational DVDs as well. Simply seeing something happen in a video and believing it right away is of course a bit dodgy, but it can be part of a body of documented evidence from which one can reasonably conclude that the experiment really happened, really gave the expected results and really does demonstrate a real-world scientific principle. This in essence is the conclusion that must be reached by a peer-review board before the work is even recommended to the public.

So, individual experiments can be researched and confirmed by anyone who’s interested even if the means to actually perform the experiments are hard to come by. There’s still the issue that lay people aren’t about to research and confirm every experiment ever done. For anything you can’t check yourself for some reason, you do have to trust the writings and other materials of working scientists, past and present. Above all, that’s a good reason for everyone to check everything they can themselves, because this kind of trust can end up being simple acceptance of an argument from authority.

That said, even third-hand evidence (e.g. articles on science published by anyone but the scientists themselves) can be justifiably accepted if you know enough. Scientific journals publicise their criteria for peer review, and you can decide for yourself whether the measures they take are sufficient for you to accept what they publish. If the scientists in question have other work available, you can look up the kind of scientific rigour they apply to their lab or field work. Knowledge of and confidence in the methods of a scientist, as opposed to his or her standing in the scientific community, can lead to real confidence in his or her findings even without knowing the specifics of a particular experiment.

It is sadly true that there is a lot of blind faith placed in science as a whole, by theists and non-theists alike. This is sad because it’s a straightforward process to become scientifically literate, to know how science is done and to have ways of judging the merits of a scientific or scientific-sounding claim. Without these tools it’s terribly easy to be taken in by pseudo-scientific scams and anti-scientific zealots using science’s own language against it. So in fact there’s a practical reason to apply as much critical thought to science as to everything else, regardless of the philosophical implications of relying on some form of faith.

Why Evolution?

Question from MiK’la:
Why do you believe in evolution? It is completely unscientific. It cannot be observed, repeated, or tested. Can you give me some evidence for evolution that can be observed, tested, or repeated? (and please give your answer in as little words as possible.)

Answer by SmartLX:
As few words as possible, huh? Okay, I’ll do it in two. Go here.

Seriously though, while evolution itself is very difficult to directly observe or repeat (mostly because it’s so slow), the evidence for it can be readily observed, and some aspects of it can be tested. DNA tests comparing our genome to to that of any other living creature will find at least some similarity, indicating that all life had a common ancestor and therefore we’re all part of the same family. The flu virus evolves so much in a year that the antibodies produced by a year-old vaccine will fail to recognise it. Some species of insects have diversified under observation into two populations incapable of breeding with each other, by definition becoming two species. Artificial selection applied to either plants or animals can radically change their appearance and behaviour in a relatively short space of time, and there’s no barrier to natural selection doing the same over millions of years.

To say that evolution is unscientific is to completely misrepresent science. Let us know why you think the mountains of evidence for evolution somehow don’t count if you like, and on whose work you base this conclusion, but in the scientific community there is no controversy at all over the basic fact that evolution has occurred.

Science and the Bible

Not-a-question-as-such from Joel:
I don’t have a question as such. But I just wanted to point out my views…I am devout Christian.I am in fact very rational. I know the first thought that you will have when you hear the word Christian and Rational in the same sentence will be “Bull shit”. But I was on verge of becoming an atheist…And I had this thought.

Science is a continuous process of understanding the laws of nature and coming to a conclusion with a set of irrefutable equations. It is finding answers for the universe that we live in. Trying to explain the Universe that we live in.

But the Bible on the other hand (I will use the Bible cos Religion is an institution created by man and it is highly influenced by man’s thinking and principles) was written by God to answer and guide humans. It is the ANSWER and not a changing set of theories…It stood and it still stands and has been going on for thousands of years.

But science grows continuously, one theory postulated today can be nullified tomorrow. So unless and until science explains laws for everything (I MEAN EVERYTHING) in Universe and it contradicts the Bible. Till then people have no right to call the Bible false. Science is changing who knows what theory or findings might just come up tomorrow, Maybe someone will prove evolution false. We Don’t know.

The Bible never was against science in the first place. The Creation being the biggest of the problems…But I somehow feel that isn’t the problem..God didn’t specifically say ..There may be a hidden meaning? Maybe the days were the stages of evolution and creation of earth. first the light (maybe a big bang) then the separation of water and air and so on. May be god wanted to say that there were 6 stages of creation and evolution. We don’t know..But what Christians believe, is that. It is better to take the bible literally than to make assumptions and misinterpret it. They are correct in their way.

And the fact that it was written at a time when people were not knowledgeable to understand various complexities of physics and biology. It just makes sense that God wrote the process of creation in this manner..And the highlight of it not being the way he created universe but what he thinks of humans..a creation in his own likeness.

So lets just stop all this bickering. I don’t care what you believe. But do not blame Mans mistake on god. And science never contradicted religion.. for me its like

L.H.S (Science) = R.H.S (Bible.)

Answer by SmartLX:
Funny you should say that science is on the left hand side; in the context of God, Jesus is on the right, so the left is usually reserved for the damned.

Science adjusts its views based on new evidence, it’s true, so it’s always possible that the scientific facts we know today could turn out to be wrong. Putting it like this, however, unfairly categorises it as a dichotomy between knowing something absolutely (which might be impossible) and throwing it out altogether, when the truth is in between.

A good scientific theory explains a great deal while making as few assumptions as possible. If the facts explained by the theory or the assumptions on which it relies are found to be incorrect, the theory must itself change or perish. At any given point, though, a large amount of confidence in the theory can be well justified, especially if new evidence either supports the theory or only requires minor adjustments to it. For example, the age of the universe (since the Big Bang) had been estimated at 15 billion years, and there was a lot of evidence to back up the estimate. Then more evidence emerged, and the age of the universe was revised downwards – but only to 13.7 billion years. All the principles that led to the earlier estimate were still intact, but the measurements were better honed and scientists were able to be more accurate. Confidence in the means that led to the discovery of the magnitude of the universe’s age was unshaken, and likely even reinforced. There may be future revisions, but the next one is much more likely to be something like 13.6 or 13.8 billion years than to continue downwards at the same rate to 12.4 billion. The odds of a new estimate getting anywhere near 6000 years (with an inception period of six literal days for the Earth and all life on it) are infinitesimal.

You’re free to assert that the Bible is the word of God, but for people who don’t start with this presumption it’s just an old book, and if it wasn’t right on a particular point to begin with, then it never will be. The difference between the word of the Bible and a current scientific theory is that there is evidence contradicting a literal (sometimes even a figurative) reading of many passages from the Bible, whereas a current scientific theory is still current because it has weathered all criticism thus far without the need to change more than it has. The Bible simply ignores criticism because it is dogmatically unable to change.

It is a very weak position to say that the Bible is right because everything else might be wrong. Some aspects of science do have to be wrong for a literal reading of the Bible to hold up, but there’s evidence for these aspects of science and no good evidence that they’re wrong. Until contrary evidence turns up, the word of the Bible is not the rational choice over science in such a case.

The Koran: For or Against Science?

Question from Sabri:
I just need specific Aias from the Koran against science and knowledge? Please, and if possible in Arabic, if not its ok. Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
I couldn’t pin down the word “Aias”, but I assume you’re looking for the Koranic equivalent of Biblical “verses” which speak against science.

I think you’re out of luck, because the Koran says very little about science and knowledge – and where Mohammed and friends are quoted on the subject (whether in the Koran or the hadith, I haven’t confirmed) they seem quite in favour of the pursuit of knowledge:
“A person who follows a path for acquiring knowledge, Allah will make easy the passage to Paradise for him.”
“A Muslim will not tire of knowledge until he reaches Heaven.”
“The ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr.”

Many Muslims go further than that. They proudly declare Islam’s supposed scientific superiority, and furthermore claim that the truth of Islam is vindicated, by pointing to parts of the Koran which they say accurately describe scientific phenomena only recently discovered by modern science. The YouTube channel TheIslamMiracle does a very good job of debunking this idea by tackling each claim individually.

Anyway, there are two main sources of Muslim opposition or indifference to science, both of which certainly have their equivalents in other religions.
1. Some branches of science regularly contradict the factual claims of the Koran. An obvious example is evolution, because the Koran roughly recounts the six-day creation story of Genesis. This, many Muslims decide, cannot be allowed to stand.
2. A Muslim who is pursuing science is not, at that exact moment, studying Islamic doctrine. Muslim childhood education commonly emphasises religious education and indoctrination above all else (even more than most Christian-centric curricula) such that children in Muslim schools may get the impression that they don’t need to know much else. This kind of environment tends not to produce a high proportion of scientifically literate adults, at least by secular standards.

Science and Human Evolution

Question from EvoE:
What is the proof humans have evolved from a common ancestor? If the scientific method is observation, data collection, internal and external validity and reliability; then how can one observe human evolution?

Answer by SmartLX:
We don’t observe human evolution. Scientists genuinely don’t know whether it’s still happening, and discuss it often.

This means little, because science does not always require direct observation of a past event to confirm that it’s happened. If it did, the police would have to be present at every murder in order to charge any suspects. We can instead observe and collect evidence that humans have evolved from ancestors we share with other animals.

The evidence includes but is not limited to:

1. Comparative physiology
We often say we evolved from apes, but it’s just as correct to say that we are apes. Without even considering genetics, we can be classified as apes using physical characteristics such as our long arms, omnivorous teeth and lack of a large tail. It goes far beyond superficial physical qualities, because our internal organs and body chemistry have countless analogues in other primate bodies. We’ve even got some organs that are practically useless to us but essential to other primates, such as the appendix and the muscles for moving our ears. (These and other human vestigial organs speak loudly against the Intelligent Design proponents’ claim that all the similarities are due to the other animals having the same Designer. Why wouldn’t He just leave out the useless organs, rather than leave them in place to potentially kill us?)

2. Genetics
The genes linked to the analogous systems mentioned above can be sampled from each species and compared directly. Now that the whole human genome has been sequenced, it can be compared all at once to the genomes of other animals. The results are as expected: our DNA diverges less than 2% from some species of apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas. (By comparison, the most distantly related humans differ from each other by about 0.1%.) As we compare ourselves to other non-primate mammals, reptiles, plants and so forth, the genetic difference rises accordingly, exactly as we would expect if we diverged from these other branches of life earlier on.

Even knowing single comparative facts, like that chimpanzees have one more chromosome than we do, we can predict and discover evidence of very specific biochemical events that happened during our own evolution, such as the mark where two of our ancestors’ chromosome pairs fused to make one of our own pairs, specifically Chromosome 2.

3. Observed natural and artificial selection (and speciation)
We have watched some species with relatively short life cycles breed and diversify to the point where two populations of the same animal became unable to breed with each other. We’ve conducted breeding programs which have deliberately achieved the same thing, just to see what’s needed for it to happen. These are instances of speciation, or the splitting of one species into two, because part of what defines species is that they can’t produce fertile offspring with other species. There have been billions of years for this kind of thing to happen all over the world without any external help, and there’s no reason to think our own origins are any different.

If you want the rest of the evidence, start at the Wikipedia page for evidence of common descent. It’s not solely concerned with humans, but a lot of it has to do with us. If there’s something specific there that you don’t accept, bring it up in a comment.